Dubstar always fitted awkwardly into the British music scene.
Whilst their highest chart placing was #15 for their single, Stars, and their much-loved debut long player, Disgraceful, only reached #30 in the UK album charts, their impact was larger and more enduring than their sales performance would imply.
When they began, the mid-90s charts were dominated by either the strutting swagger of BritPop bands like Oasis, Blur and Suede or the exuberance of unapologetically commercial pop of Spice Girls, Take That and Boyzone. Dubstar were neither.
From the sumptuous melancholy of their debut single, Stars, to the musical harmony and lyrical ambivalence of The Day I See You Again, to the upbeat vitriol of I Will Be Your Girlfriend, Dubstar carved out an intriguing niche of bittersweet pop. Their songs paradoxically often offered welcoming, seemingly-light melodies set against dark, disturbing lyrics.
Which brings us to Token, the new irresistible new single…
From the off, pulsating meaty synths underscore Sarah Blackwood’s radiant (and reassuringly Northern) vocals on a track that feels both fresh and retro. Imagine Furniture’s 1986 minor hit, Brilliant Mind, crossed with the 1985 Eurythmics’ chart topper, There Must Be An Angel (Playing with My Heart) – being played by the Pet Shop Boys at their synth-tastic best.
The latter influence isn’t so surprising given that Stephen Hague, producer of PSB’s album Please and single What Have I Done To Deserve This?, has returned to work with Dubstar for the first time since 1997.
For a group known for their lyrical angst and bitterness, Token is a satisfyingly upbeat, optimistic tale of self-empowerment. A joyous kiss-off anthem to a toxic broken relationship.
Blackwood told The Electricity Club “I’m singing about how the tormentor can help themselves to the things we shared together; inviting them to take a ‘tender token.” With her eye firmly on the exit, the song’s final lyric embraces a future freedom without a backwards glance:
“Make the most of the things we shared / ’cause tomorrow’s mine!“
For the group that once were hailed as “a glorious stain on the bed linen of British pop culture”, a thorough cleansing seems to be at the heart of Dubstar’s Token. Get ready to swoon – this immaculate, shimmering synthpop is a strong contender as pop single of the year so far!